CATHOLIC Priest Fr Lastone Lupupa says the only problem with the Church Empowerment Fund is that it’s now perceived to be attached to campaigns.

In an interview, Fr Lupupa wondered why the fund was not given quietly to the church as opposed to telling the ‘whole world’ about it.

“The Church Empowerment Fund is for help that is targeting the people who are suffering. Put in its proper context, there is no problem. The only problem is that it is perceived to be attached to the campaigns. I am a beneficiary of the government and the church is government. The people that we serve are government, so you can’t separate the congregation from politicians. There are cadres in the church, there are cadres everywhere so that should not be an issue at all. Democracy is about numbers, the one [who] wins an election has got more votes than the opponent, and how do you buy people? You buy people by being good, and what is the shortcut to pleasing another? It is giving them help and you look like you are really good but ultimately we have not been good to each other through and through,” Fr Lupupa said.

“Like the Bishop of Chipata was saying that ‘no, we don’t want cameras’, so in a way I would say he is right. But also he has put it in the context of what is about to happen. So if the right hand gives, the left hand should never know about it. If this help was done privately, directly into the account of the church, who would know about it? But when you parade your help, which is against Jesus, then it is problematic. Why are you telling the whole world that ‘we have given you money’? Why don’t you do it quietly? So it is attached now to win the electorates. People have got simple minds: they are listening to us, they are listening to this bishop, they are listening to the other bishop, so whatever we say is influencing the people’s choice of leaders.”

And Fr Lupupa said there was now a misplaced misconception about help being an election year.

“When it comes to helping a person in need, there is no discrimination, everybody can help. The church helps the government with the prayers, the government has called upon the church to intervene to reconcile them. So that is a form of help. The government has waived the church from paying taxes, so there is that cordial relationship that exists between the State and the church. What we have seen now is a misplaced misconception of help because it is a year of election so the other party feels this is a gimmick of campaign. If it was outside that context, then the help has always been there,” he said.

“The church has always asked the government, and the government has always asked the church. So for me it is about the context in which this help is flourishing. So we may continue to talk about whether the Bishop (George Zumaire Lungu) or the President is right, we will not get anywhere because people are perceiving this whole thing in the context of what is happening. Beyond 12th August, things will normalise, anybody can go to church. Just like when the members of parliament come to our churches to pray before campaign time, they are ordinary Christians. But if it is during campaign times we look at them as people who have come to campaign. So in short context is the one that people are ignoring and to remove context, everything is fine.”

Last week, President Edgar Lungu expressed concern that despite government’s efforts to help cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the church, the initiative had instead received a backlash.

The comments came in the wake of a statement from Chipata Diocese Rev George Lungu who questioned the source of the “Church Empowerment Fund” asking that the money be channeled to more needy areas of the economy.